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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Star Wars: The Deleted Scenes #1: Luke and the space battle

Watching the space battle: This was to have been our first view of Luke Skywalker

Luke being taunted by fellow teenagers; Han Solo canoodling with a woman; and the appearance of a very human Jabba the Hutt. Over the next few posts, Episode Nothing looks at the scenes deleted from the final cut of Star Wars.

The Imperial Star Destroyer has captured the little Rebel blockade runner. Storm troopers are mowing down the Rebel soldiers. Two droids are weaving their way between the laser blasts. And then ... we cut away to the planet below, where a young farm boy watching the battle through binoculars.

That's the way the opening minutes of Star Wars were scripted to unfold, and it's the way things stood until George Lucas decided to excise a whole plot strand from his movie in the editing – leaving the work of several cast members on the cutting room floor.

Luke and the Treadwell droid  

In the released version of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker does not appear until about sixteen minutes in. By that point, we've already seen a space battle and been introduced to the droids, Princess Leia, Darth Vader and the Jawas.

It's unusual for a movie to delay introducing its hero for so long. But in the screenplay as filmed, things happened differently.

The first of our deleted scenes was to have come right after we see the Rebel troops overwhelmed by the Stormtroopers as the droids dodge the crossfire. In the published script, the scene change follows See-Threepio's deleted line line to Artoo: “I should have known better than to trust the logic of a half-sized thermocapsulary dehousing assister”. (Incidentally, the decision to excise that line hardly deprived the movies of one of the all-time great zingers.)

Our first view of Tatooine in a
deleted scene from Star Wars

The scene, which can be watched on the Star Wars Blu-ray set, starts with an impressive wide shot of the Tatooine moisture farm where Luke is at work. He is fixing some machinery with the help of a droid, which the script describes as a “beatup tread-robot with six claw arms”. In the scene as filmed, the droid doesn't have the claw arms, but does have a distinctive head which conveys character quite nicely and looks as though it could have inspired Number Five in the 1986 hit Short Circuit. (The radio series of 1981 calls the droid a Treadwell, a name which isn't in the movie, but which stuck.) 

The treadwell droid in
a deleted scene
from Star Wars 
Treadwell's distant cousin
Number Five in Short Circuit

We get the sense that Luke's work is pretty boring, and he is quickly distracted by something in the sky. We see, from his point of view, the outline of the Star Destroyer refracted through the atmosphere. Excited, Luke jumps into his landspeeder, attempting to call the droid after him, but it grinds to a halt and starts emitting smoke, so he leaves it behind. 

We fans were sort of aware, in the 1970s, that this material existed. They figured in other adaptations of the story, and we had seen stills. In fact, thanks to this Topps collector card, the sight of Luke's sun hat and macrobinoculars was pretty familiar:

Familiar: The Topps collector
card that showed Luke Skywalker
using his macrobinoculars

Introducing Luke Skywalker

It's easy to see the dilemma Lucas must have been faced with when he edited the opening minutes of his movie.

Hollywood films usually make it clear very early on who their hero is. But Lucas was keen to introduce his film with a spectacular visual effect. What's more, he had been keen – partly thanks to the influence of Akira Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress – to introduce his epic story from the point of view of two lowly characters, the robots.

Perhaps as a concession to conventional wisdom, he wrote Luke into the film early, giving him a sub-plot in which the farm boy sees a space battle but no one would believe him (yes, that plot line beloved of young viewers for generations). In the editing process, he decided to jettison this idea, along with the early scenes involving Luke's friend Biggs, which we'll come to in the next post. The effect was to speed up the early part of the film and bring down its running time to more or less two hours, which was plenty long enough for a family film.

These early encounters with Luke work well in other adaptations of the story – the novel, the comic books and the radio series. But I think Lucas was wise to cut them from the film. He had a lot of story to get through before he could bring his main characters together, and there was no need to spend longer than necessary on the Tatooine sequences. And what's more, cutting away from the action on the blockade runner would have taken away form the intensity of that opening battle.

In the version released on the Blu-ray set, this first Luke scene ends with a scene change (an iris slow) to the next deleted Tatooine sequence. But as scripted, the film would have cut back to the Rebel ship for the arrival of Darth Vader. It would be a little longer before the movie cut back to Tatooine, where we would have met Biggs – the man who, as we'll see in a future post on this subject, might well have rivalled Han Solo for the title of Coolest Man in the Galaxy.

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